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Green data center operations on docket for '07

Green data center strategies are on the lips of vendors and IT managers alike. This article discusses driving forces behind the phenomenon.

A topic soon to be, if not already, hitting the 'to do' list of enterprise IT managers is the escalating pressures exacted to integrate more environmentally sensitive behaviors in the data center. 'Environmentally-friendly' or, more colloquially, 'Green IT' appears to be rapidly shooting up the list of vendor differentiation strategies. This, not incidentally, will exert major impact on data center policies from acquisition to administration to operations. The last two months have seen a slew of vendor meetings and presentations of product plans, programs, and in-house initiatives as major vendors tout just how 'green' they are in operation, products and policy. (Should Kermit be jealous?)

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Several forces come into play in this area, all with a more or less direct impact on IT operations. Let's identify them:

First, there is the highly charged message of the immediate threat to mankind posed by widespread use of technology, energy and personal transit. The battle between Luddites and workers over the use of technology dates back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution (and probably earlier). The battle shows no sign of ending. The combination of forces (media, interest groups, politicians, etc.) raising the issue of being 'Green' means that ignoring the clamor, whether scientifically valid or not, is far too risky. So, the data center (and enterprise) will feel the impact in record keeping, restrictions or requirements around purchases, changes in behavior and product availability.

Second are the governmental mandates, which range from regulations aimed at recycling and anti-pollution measures to more draconian mandates, i.e., the European Union assessing taxes based on total life-cycle environmental impact. This effort requires an assessment of the environmental impact that a product has at every stage of its life-cycle; meaning a detailed examination and assessment of impact from conception through manufacture, packaging, marketing, distribution, implementation, application, retirement, re-use, and, finally, disposal. This is likely to directly impact product pricing, packaging, usability, maintenance procedures and even availability (as in products that will never see the light of day) of new technology. And, you thought Sarbanes-Oxley caused a productivity hit!

Finally, there is the real, direct impact of escalating cost of operations due to increasingly rising integrated global markets and escalating competition for access to scarce resources. This impacts data center operations, touching everything from energy to the availability (and cost) of skilled expertise. Pressures will continue to grow due to the exploding technological sophistication and demand from emerging, rapidly developing nations. The competitors for resources of all kinds are the emerging IT centers of Brazil, Russia, India and China - countries recognized to have enormous potential for revenue and consumption of all sorts.

This is where the data center will likely see the biggest benefit, albeit at a cost. It is this struggle over resources that will motivate significantly better efficiencies and lower the power demands of data center products. The fuel 'shortage' (despite the discovery of an estimated trillion plus barrels of oil lying under the Gulf of Mexico) is driving up energy prices and has vendors scrambling to lower energy demands across IT products from chips to server racks.

So, expect 'Environmentally Friendly' and 'Green' tags to appear on all kinds of products. We'll discuss the issues, vendor moves, and implications in the months to come. Our closing thought: Prince Charles (heir-in-waiting to the British throne for the past 30 years) will reduce his personal carbon footprint by having his servants, staff, and messengers walk, bicycle, and ride the Underground as they conduct business on his behalf. What a prince!!

About the author: Richard Ptak of Ptak, Noel & Associates has over 30 years experience in systems product management and is author of "Manager's Guide to Distributed Environments," (John Wiley & Sons, 1998).

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